Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen's Association, today released a response to a federal judge's ruling that NMFS violated the Endangered Species Act in its management of the American lobster fishery.

“We can’t change the legal deficiencies identified by the court, but we can commit to leveraging our knowledge and experience to fight for a future for our fishery and for right whales,” McCarron said in a statement released by the association.

The lawsuit challenged NMFS' biological opinion on the American lobster fishery, which stated that the fishery “may adversely affect, but is not likely to jeopardize, the continued existence of North Atlantic right whales.”

The judge ruled against NMFS, noting that the agency failed to include an “incidental take statement.” That failure, the judge declared, renders the biological opinion illegal under the Endangered Species Act.

“Until now, the court has only heard from the environmental groups and the federal government. They have not yet heard the fishing industry’s perspective,” noted McCarron. “Now that it is time for the judge to consider evidence about what happens on the water to protect whales, the MLA will bring the voice of Maine’s lobstermen to the court.”

This was the first of two phases of the case to determine whether NMFS violated the law. The second phase is intended to identify whether and what new whale protection measures might be needed for the fishery to operate in compliance with the ESA.

“The MLA and its legal team are uniquely positioned and well prepared to educate the court on the Maine lobster fishery’s long-standing efforts to protect right whales and insist that decisions that affect our fishermen are based on the best available science,” McCarron said.

“We believe in our fishermen," she added. "We believe in our industry, and we are committed to saving both right whales and our communities. But make no mistake, this is a daunting challenge."

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Jessica Hathaway is the former editor in chief of National Fisherman.

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